Thu, 28 Sep 2023

Last week more than 40 people, mostly daily wage labourers and agricultural hands, died in India's western state of Gujarat after having drunk moonshine liquor.

Investigations by police have revealed that some small-time moonshiners of different villages of Botad district had made the deadly liquor by mixing water with methyl alcohol or methanol, a poisonous industrial solvent and sold it to villagers for 25 cents a pouch.

A lethal cocktail

Nearly 500 litres of methanol chemical was seized by authorities.

"Despite prohibition, liquor was sold openly in the village. My husband had chest pain, blurry vision and then began vomiting after which he was admitted to a hospital. He is still serious," Praveena, his wife told RFI.

"We have taken the incident very seriously and a detailed investigation has been launched," said Raj Kumar, Gujarat's home secretary.

"Cases have been registered and 24 persons have been named for the tragedy of whom a majority have been rounded up."

The incident came days after a similar tragedy claimed a dozen lives in West Bengal's Howrah district.

Earlier this year, consumption of illegal liquor during the Indian festival of Holi led to nearly 40 deaths across northern Bihar, another state where alcohol is banned.

Hooch is a cheap liquor, brewed in small unregulated shanties and does not attract excise tax.

What makes it toxic is its mix with chemicals. It is more commonly sold in states that have imposed a full ban on liquor, thus, making more people fall prey.

However, hooch tragedies have occurred in states where liquor is available.

In 2008, more than 180 people from the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu died after they consumed moonshine made with camphor and tobacco, making it one of the worst hooch tragedies in the country in recent times. The drink also contained toxic methyl alcohol.

Three years back, this killer alcoholic brew contained urea, traces of battery liquid, caustic soda and large quantities of sedatives claiming close to 100 lives across northern Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states.

Rise in deaths

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, 6,172 people died between 2016 and 2020 due to the consumption of illicit hooch in India. This translates to more than three deaths every day.

The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh alone accounts for a fifth of the country's hooch deaths, with 1,214 deaths in the same period.

"The toxic effects of the methanol adulterant manifests in the form of either the death of or permanent blindness of those who survive," Pradeep Kumar, a health worker told RFI.

Data across the country reveals the stark fact that this spurious liquor mainly targets lower socio-economic strata, owing to their inability to purchase liquor from licensed shops.

The scale of the rise in hooch incidents and deaths have raised questions about the inability of the administration to curb the black market in liquor sales and consumption.

Originally published on RFI

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